Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
NATION, The (IN
—The last of the distinct English colonies was founded in 1732. (See
—In civil government there is the same homogeneity. All acknowledge the same king and the same common law; all have kept up their own parliaments and parliamentary government, no matter whether it be by their king's free grace or by stress of circumstances; all are free from any trace of nobility or privileged classes.
—In social economy the conditions are the same. In spite of the inevitable variations in non-essentials, the fundamental facts of family life are the same everywhere, and persons or families, who remove from one colony to another, fit into their new places as naturally as into the old. Instances, such as that of Franklin, are too numerous to require special reference. No one feels himself to be less "an Englishman" because of his removal from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania or from South Carolina to New York.
—In religion the conditions are the same: all the colonies are Protestant. Maryland alone is nominally Catholic; but he absolute toleration of its proprietors has from the beginning opened the doors so widely to Protestant immigration that the Puritan settlers in 1655-6, and a "Protestant defense association" in 1689, were able to seize the government and disfranchise the original Catholic settlers until the revolution.
—A population so prepared by juxtaposition, by continuity, by natural boundaries, and by homogeneity of blood, language, civil government, social economy, and religion, may be divided by the king's decrees into separate "colonies," but the decrees of a higher power than the king have already made them one nation. So long as their attention is exclusively taken up by the busy activities of immigration and settlement, they will ignore their fundamental union; but the very first necessity that impels them to national action will result, not so much in the formation of a single nation, as in a demonstration of the fact that that nation is already in existence. So early as 1643 a partial union had been begun (see
—The English settlements have been already compared to an invading army, moving toward the west. On the north another people, the French, had already begun a similar invasion, but with far inferior prospects of success. Its primary base, the valley of the St. Lawrence, was comparatively narrow, and in winter almost inaccessible; its line of march was contracted, and by natural limitations was bent toward the southwest at Niagara; and from that point it lay directly across the path of advancing English migration, which, in full column, was to strike the French line in flank and at its weakest point. The result of a conflict under such conditions might have been easily foreseen; the French line was broken at the first shock, and the English swept on to the Mississippi. (See
—The policy of the British ministry, at and immediately after the peace of 1763, was singularly unfortunate. By forcing France to surrender her Canadian provinces, it relieved the English colonies from the threatening danger which had long made British protection seem essential to their security. By initiating the attempt to transform a strictly British parliament into an imperial parliament, with absolute power of taxation over a British people not represented in it, it forced into existence the most pressing of all occasions for national action in America. (See
—In 1765 the first body which can be considered representative of the colonies in general held its meeting; but its proceedings were not legislative, and were confined to declarations and petitions. (See
—The renewal of the scheme of parliamentary taxation, and, still more, the assertion of the right of parliament to abrogate civil government in America at its pleasure by the abolition or alteration of charters, roused the national spirit at last to something like a self-conscious existence. In 1774 the continental congress first met; in 1775 it became a real national assembly; in 1776 it took the unretraceable step of renouncing allegiance to the crown. (See
—Franklin, in 1770, laid down as the ground of justification of the American resistance to parliamentary taxation, that "the several colonies have equal rights and liberties, and are only connected, as England and Scotland were before the union, by having one common sovereign, the king"; and this has been taken as a text for the modern doctrine of state sovereignty by those who forget that the king was an integral and essential part of the sovereignty of each colony, and that, through him, the "sovereignty" of the colonies was itself in common from the beginning. (See
—According to this view of a much debated question, April 19, 1775, must be taken as the formal date of the birth of the new nation. All proceedings before that date are to be construed, so far as possible, by the municipal law of the thirteen commonwealths, as recognized parts of the British empire. All the great events after that date, the declaration of independence, and the ratification of the articles of confederation and of the constitution, must be considered mere municipal proceedings of a nation already in existence, which, however, still found it most natural and convenient to work through and by the state form of organization. But the intermediate event, the origin of the nation itself, is to be viewed under neither head, but in the light of admitted principles of international law. The above described merging of the separate sovereignty of the colonies, the crown being a part of each, into a common sovereignty of one nation and a king, did not take place by overmastering foreign force, as in the case of Poland; nor by the wholesale purchase of a venal national assembly, as in the case of Ireland; nor by the actual sale of the alienated sovereignty by its former sovereign, as in the case of Louisiana; nor by the conquered nation, as the price of a treaty of peace, as in the case of Alsace and Lorraine; but by the free and irrevocable consent of the whole people. When the merger had taken place, and when his share of the sovereignty of the whole mass had been wrested from the king by the whole people, the title of the new sovereign was as valid as that of the old. Argument, at any rate, can hardly prevail against it. Such a power as that of a nation, when once set free, is not to be conjured back into a bottle again by the words of any master of dialectics.
—In its original form, that of the so-called "continental congress," the new national government was at first revolutionary and not limited by any organic law. (See
—II. 1789-1801. The word "nation" and its derivatives were by no means favorites in our early political history. Instead of them, use was almost invariably made of vaguer phrases, such as "the people," "the public," "the public welfare," "the established government," "the union," "the confederacy," "our common country," "the community." Even when the invidious word occasionally crept into use, its sense was almost invariably geographical rather than political. The underlying feeling in regard to it may be gathered from an extract from the debate in the house of representatives, Aug. 15, 1789, on the proposed amendment prohibiting an establishment of religion. "Mr. Madison though, if the word 'national' was inserted before 'religion,' it would satisfy the minds of honorable gentlemen. Mr. Gerry did not like the word 'national,' and he hoped it would not be adopted by the house. It brought to his mind some observations that had taken place in the conventions at the time they were considering the present constitution. Those who were called anti-federalists at that time complained that they had injustice done them by the title, because they were in favor of a federal government, and the others were in favor of a national one. Mr. Madison with drew his motion, but observed that the words 'no national religion shall be established by law' did not imply that the government was a national one." This negation of nationality as a permanent political fact, was not confined to one party, but was a common feeling, expressed in plain words, by some, and in significant silence by others; and debates can only be understood as the deliberations of voluntary partners, who were joint in action, but several in interest, and each of whom had in view a possible withdrawal from the firm if his interests were unpleasantly violated.
—But, however common this feeling, it was not quite universal. The nation had not only been born, but had forced its way into its own place, and though the great mass of the people were willfully or naturally blind to its existence, there were a few who saw the germ clearly, and fore saw its possible development. Chief among these was Washington: his habits of mind, early training, breadth of view, and utter lack of sympathy with the politicians of his own state, combined to make his politics entirely national; while the absolute confidence which the people at large reposed in him made him extremely effective. Second to him in effectiveness, though far beyond him in political ability, was Hamilton, to whose suggestion was due almost every nationalizing measure of the period 1789-95. All his great measures—the incorporation of the national bank, the assumption of state debts, the creation of a national debt, the protection of domestic manufactures by a high tariff, and the enforcement of an excise law—were intended to develop the germ of nationality: the first four by the creation of interests, albeit selfish interests, which should not be bounded by state lines, but should run throughout the nation, form a bond of union, and struggle as if for their own life against any disintegration of the Union; and the last named by forcing a recognition of national power any laying a precedent for its future use, if it should prove necessary. The support which was given to all of these measures by the federalists tended strongly to the political education of that party, but the education was superficial, not radical. Vining, of Delaware, in the debate on the national bank, referring to "the act by which the United States became a free and independent nation, said that from that declaration they derive all the powers appertaining to a nation thus circumstanced"; and the federalist senate, in its answer to the president, Nov. 9, 1792, calls the excise law "a law repeatedly sanctioned by the authority of the nation." But these two strong expressions, both apparently derived from Hamilton, stand almost isolated among the federalist arguments, which regularly attempted to defend Hamilton's measures on economic, not on national, grounds. In fact, the federalist politicians were as blind as their opponents to the idea that "the nation" was now a political entity, distinct even from "all the states"; and when their economic support of Hamilton's measures proved to be a failure, they were as ready as their opponents would have been to suggest a "dissolution of the partnership." (See
—In the meantime a party had been forming which more exactly represented the feelings of the people. (See
—In the beginning some of the leaders of the new party were disposed to treat tenderly, if not altogether favorably, the idea that the obedience of individual citizens to the federal government should also be voluntary; but before 1800 the programme of the republican, or democratic, party had settled down to that which is given above. In its fundamental idea the mass of the people, consciously or unconsciously, believed firmly; and the opposition of the federalists to it was angrier because it was half-hearted. Most of them were nationalist only for party reasons; their alien and sedition laws were distinctly party, not national, measures; and when they lost control of the federal government in 1801 they became a party of outs seeking to get in—a discredited, factious opposition, without a policy and without the desire for one. Hamilton's work was then to be done over again, and done better. The plant which he had tried to force into a premature fruitfulness was to grow into natural and hardy life as an indigenous product of the soil.
—III. 1801-15. From the accession of the democratic party to federal power in 1801 its fundamental tenet was to be for the next sixty years the actual or nominal canon of American politics, the Procrustean bed to which all political faiths were to be fitted; and yet during all that time it was undergoing in one section of the Union a progressive change, the depth and extent of which was first made manifest in the spring of 1861. The first period of this change relates to the department which Jefferson considered peculiarly that of the federal government, that of foreign affairs.
—It was easier to announce that to enforce the doctrine that the states were foreign to one another and yet an nation to all other powers. Foreign nations naturally refused to accept the American national coin at any higher value than that for which it passed current in its own country. Democratic politicians during this period frequently used the words "nation" and "national," but not in sense which was calculated to inspire any large amount of respect in the great European belligerents. Year after year the demands, the remonstrances, the entreaties, almost the prayers, of the "voluntary confederation" met with either denial or silent contempt, until the great democratic leader regretfully echoed Silas Deane's wish that an ocean of fire, instead of water, had been placed between the two hemispheres. Embargoes and non-intercourse laws only served to swell the chorus of denunciation from New England, and to convince the belligerents that the western republic was no more a nation in its foreign than it its domestic relations. (See
—Eleven years of such experiences were never wholly lost. They roused at last a thoroughly national spirit, which burst the shackles of party, thrust many of the old democratic leaders out of power, converted the rest, and in 1812 declared war against Great Britain. (See
—Even in domestic affairs a step nearly as long had been taken. It was "the nation," not a "voluntary confederation," that had declared war and had carried it to an end, despite all the dreadful possibilities of the great democratic dogma, if New England had ventured to enforce it in practice. The very locality of the last great battle, on the outskirts of the republic, near the distant and only vaguely known city of New Orleans, was a token of empire before which state lines faded away. The close of the year 1815 left the United States a nation, recognized as such by others and apparently on the high road to a similar recognition within its own borders.
—IV. 1815-65. The tokens of the rising internal national spirit are abundant for a few years after the war. The experiment of a national bank was again tried. (See
—Had this influence of immigration been the only one which was at work to discriminate the two sections, it could hardly have failed finally, though slowly, to make the north completely national, while leaving the negation of nationality as general in the south as it had been throughout the whole country for twenty years after 1789. But a still stronger influence was at work in the south to convert its negation into an angry denial of nationality. Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 had made slave labor profitable in the extreme south, and slave raising equally profitable in the border states; the whole slave section had one controlling interest in common; state sovereignty had developed into the far more dangerous form of sectional sovereignty; and the south had already assumed the attitude of an imperium in imperio, a nation within, and directly opposed to, the nation. (See
—The current of events was checked for a little, about this time, by that which was in the end to hurry it onward with far greater rapidity, the sudden predominance of democracy in the north. (See
—The essence of the long struggle as to the introduction or prohibition of slavery in the territories is simple: were the territories the property of "all the states," or were they the property of "the nation"? (See
—In 1861 a section of the Union at last combined to test the question whether their continuance as states in the Union was "voluntary." (See
—The life of Josiah Quincy, the most brilliant of the early federalist orators, was prolonged until his ninety-third year (1864). He had been a part of the unsubstantial national edifice which Hamilton's magic had evoked out of nothing; he had seen its fall and disappearance; he had declared in congress, in 1811, that the dissolution of the Union was already accomplished (see
—In this line of consideration lies also the historical excuse for the action of the south in 1860-61, and the consequent rebellion. If slavery had never existed in America, both sections would have gone on in a common line of development, admiring the "voluntary" principle of the Union, but never thinking seriously of attempting to enforce it, until some unexpected emergency would finally have awakened both to the fact that national union had taken the place of voluntary association. Slavery was the only element antagonistic to the development of the nation. It had curbed and cramped the progress of the south, and had reduced that section to even a lower plane of national life than that of 1789. The conflict was inevitable; and if the price which was paid great, the result which was gained was inestimable. The shackles were struck from the limbs, not of the black alone but of the superior race as well; the south had then no barrier to her indefinite progress in the future; and in 1865, for the first time, we may say that the United States was, as well as were, a nation.
—V. SINCE 1865. The possible future of the nation must be largely a matter of speculation. There is one aspect of the question, however, in which a recurrence to earlier history may be useful.
—The preservation of the boundary lines of the states, as they had been marked out in the various grants of the king, has always been made the strongest argument against the national character of the United States. If the continental congress, the articles of confederation and the constitution were the work of the nation, why were the states so carefully recognized as essential features in all of them? He who accepts the nebular hypothesis will not trouble himself with speculations as to the possible constitution of the universe if the original nebula had been governed by a law of square or triangular motion: he will take the law which accounts for all subsequent development. And he who studies the development of the national idea in the United States must be prepared to find it governed by law also, and must take the states as an essential part of the nation. In this way only could American individualism be reconciled to nationality.
—It is, therefore, useless to speculate on a possible absorption of state functions by the federal government, the blotting out of state lines, and the formation of a single centralized nation in their place. It would hardly be a complete answer, for all future time, to cite the name of the nation, the United States, as a continuing pledge of state existence, or the express provision of the constitution that no state shall be deprived of an equal representation in the senate without its own consent; for in such matters, as Dr. Draper strongly expresses it, "there is a political force in ideas which silently renders protestations, promises and guarantees, no matter in what good faith they may have been given, of no avail, and which makes constitutions obsolete." Had the states no better guarantee for their existence, it might be worth while to consider the question suggested. But a perfect answer may be found in that law which has always governed, which still governs and which will always govern the political workings of the American mind, the law which makes the state formation an inseparable concomitant of national existence. The separate existence of the original thirteen states was undeniably due to the king's will; but, if they had not been in existence in 1775, the nation would have discovered a way to evoke them, as it has since evoked twenty-five others. It chose instinctively to work through the state formation in 1775 and 1787-8: even in the ferment of the rebellion and the reconstruction, its whole energy was bent to the preservation of "an indissoluble union of indestructible states"; and it is an impossibility to conceive a future American republic in which the state element shall be lacking. The nation would resist an attempt upon the life of the weakest and poorest state as instinctively and as desperately as it would resist an attempt upon its own. It is conscious in every fibre, that it is a being which, like Milton's angels, "vital in every part, can not but by annihilating die."
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